Written by The Business Journal Staff
Robert H. McKellar, Chief Executive Officer
McKellar Agricultural Group
What we do:
When asked, my favorite answer is “we raise citrus and people.” We do raise oranges and mandarins (Cuties) and we are involved in several forms of agritourism.
I graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, with a double major in animal husbandry and ag journalism. My degree is in animal husbandry.
My wife Ann Shidler Mehrten McKellar, daughters Shawn Hodges, Kerin McKellar Terri Jeske and sons Mark and Craig McKellar.
How did you first become involved in farming, Robert?
I first became involved in farming growing up and working on my family’s farm here in Ivanhoe where we farm today. I went to the Northwest following graduation from Cal Poly as a field editor for a livestock magazine. Later I formed my own public relations and association management firm in Pendleton and Salem, Oregon. My Father died in 1972 and from then until 2003 I also managed the family farm with my mother, sister Norene March and three wonderful, loyal employees, two of which are still with me, Jim Stailey and Virginia McKee. We did it by fax, telephone and my being here on the farm about a week a month. I returned to the farm full-time in 2003.
Can you describe your business strategy, Robert?
Diversificaton. There is much evidence that diversification spreads the failures and successes out; so to quote the trite but true old saying: Don’t have all your eggs in one basket. We have diversified our citrus by planting early navels, mid-season (traditional) navels, late navels from Australia, Cara Cara navels and we will plant 10 acres of an Australian early season variety next Spring. We have also planted W. Murcott mandarins (sold as Cuties) and two seedless mandarin developed by the University of California at Riverside, Shasta Gold and Tango. We also have the original traditional Washington navels and Valencias. We farm 182 acres. In addition, we have diversified adding three forms of agritourism to the mix.
How have your services like farm fresh produce delivery been received by the community, Robert?
We started Family Farm Fresh in 2006 to provide a way to sell some of our oranges directly to peoples’ homes and offices. We deliver four days a week to cities in Tulare County, Hanford, Lemoore, Fresno and Clovis.
Family Farm Fresh works with local small organic and sustainable farms in the San Joaquin Valley and other California valleys to deliver fresh fruit, vegetables and farm products weekly, throughout the year, right to your door. Part of our expansion plan is to also deliver healthy snack fruits and veggies to business break rooms.
Agritourism has been gaining popularity over the last few years, how does McKellar Agricultural Group participate in the industry, Robert?
McKellar Family Farms is our newest venture. We host bus tours, giving visitors a look at a working citrus ranch, its irrigation system, equipment, a wagon trip through the orchards and we wind up with a movie produced by California Citrus Mutual showing people picking oranges and following them through the packing facility onto the trucks headed for your hometown grocery. We give them samples of the fruit to taste and orange juice to drink. In recent weeks, we have hosted tours from Germany, Canada, Northern California and students in after-school programs. McKellar Family Farms also hosts a Spring and a Fall Farm Festival, movie nights on the farm and other group activities to bring folks back to the farm to enjoy for at least a brief time what we, on the farm, enjoy every day.
We really enjoy bringing folks to the farm to answer their questions and concerns and, in many cases, bring back memories of their life on a farm in the past. We host many folks just travelling through our area who learn about us and stop in for an hour’s tour. We are not getting rich at it; but there is a great deal of satisfaction.
McKellar Family Farms has quite the presence on Twitter and other social media. Do you think it’s necessary for farms to employ modern marketing strategies like that in today’s world?
We are blessed to have three young women, skilled in the art of social media, to tell our story: Kim Rico, for Historic Seven Sycamores Ranch; Linda Brandt, The Family Farm Fresh Girl and Brittany McMahon for McKellar Family Farms. We may be ahead of the game in these parts with our emphasis on social media but in the mid-West and East, agritourism farms are into social media big time. In my opinion, it is absolutely necessary for farms to employ modern marketing strategies that are growing every day in today’s world.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it, Robert?
The first real non-farm job I had was working as a dishwasher at the Pilot Wheel Café in Pismo when I was going to college. I worked from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. for 50-cents an hour and three meals a day. I learned that if you do your job well and care about the folks you work with, chances are good that you will succeed one way or another.
What do you like to do in your spare time, Robert?
I am spending my spare time in ways to help the citrus industry and organizations raise money for their good causes. I’m also trying to help the area to attract more tourism for the benefit of all businesses and one special musical organization — The Sierra Traditional Jazz Club in Three Rivers.